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Zhangjiajie: A Celebration of Nature
2004-10-27

By LIU XIAOMING & WU XINYI

"Fly over on green clouds, and ride on green waves......

Jinbian Stream presents its fragrance, and Huangshizhai sets its stage......

Bathe in the green morning breeze, and the green evening mist......

Here are the footprints of remote ancientry, and the magic mien of nature......"

-- From the city song, Meeting at Zhangjiajie

At 1,300 meters above sea level, the Huangshizhai summit gives a panoramic view of Zhangjiajie.ZHANGJIAJIE is a rising tourist city in northwestern Hunan Province, site of China's first national forest park, whose core scenic area, Wulingyuan, the State Council named a key area of national scenic and historic interest in October 1988. In December 1992, Wulingyuan was designated UNESCO World Natural Heritage.

Thanks to rational utilization of its primal natural scenery, today's Zhangjiajie preserves its natural beauty, while being economically developed.

Oh My! The Last Wonder of the World

On a day in May, 1992, two overseas visitors arrived at Zhangjiajie. They went to each scenic spot, and asked local officials detailed questions about the protection and development of the area's natural resources. Their observations and appraisals were factual and to the point, but they were nonetheless moved by the area's unique landscape, often nodding their heads and exclaiming, "Oh my!"

After a snowfall.These two visitors turned out to be world culture and landscape protection experts who have been to scenic areas around the world. On this occasion they were commissioned by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to make an investigatory trip to Wulingyuan. They were greatly impressed by the area's "undeniable natural beauty" -- as stated in their UNESCO evaluation report.

At the end of 1992 Zhangjiajie's Wulingyuan was listed a world natural heritage site, and, along with Yellowstone Park and the Grand Canyon, is referred to as one of the last wonders of the World.

Work of Nature

Zhangjiajie's landscape is the result of 380 million years of nature's machinations. Three hundred and eight million years ago, the area was under the sea, where halobios fossils formed layers of soil and rocks. Earth movements elevated the seabed above the water's surface, and submerged other tracts of land. This cycle continued until, at the last Yanshan Mountain deformation, the area rose up from the sea, rock layers splitting, and crevasses expanding, to become today's Zhangjiajie, whose ruggedness is also the result of water, wind and rain erosion.

A tranquil path to the Baofeng Lake.Zhangjiajie is best known for its towering peaks, cloaked in cloud and mist, and covered in different shades of green. Thick shrubs cover the cliff surface, and pines flourish on the mountaintops. Various shapes can be discerned in its peaks -- of animals, swords and humans. An aerial view of the peaks presents an even more impressive view -- a veritable forest of corals in a blue fathomless sea.

In the late 1970s renowned artist Wu Guanzhong came to Zhangjiajie. He was greatly touched and inspired by the purity of its natural beauty, and subsequently produced his masterpiece, Zhangjiajie. He also wrote an article entitled, "An Unknown Nurtured in the Recess of the Boudoir," in which he eulogized Zhangjiajie as a scenic gem tucked away in the depth of the mountains. Today Zhangjiajie is a popular tourist destination, and Wu Guanzhong's painting is on exhibit at a French museum.

Of Zhangjiajie's magnificent mountains, Tianmen might be the most characteristic. A few kilometers south of the city stands a solitary cliff-faced mountain, within which is a huge opening, known as the Celestial Gate -- the name of the mountain. In 1999 various international stunt pilots flew their planes through this opening.

It is said that Zhangjiajie has 3,000 peaks and 800 bodies of waters, including springs, streams, lakes, waterfalls and pools. They never dry up even in drought years, and remain clear even after a heavy rain. Along the Jinbian and Liansuo streams are a series of picturesque spots. The Yuanyang Waterfalls cascade from a height of 100 meters, their thunder echoing through the mountains. Baofeng Lake is a crystal-clear alpine lake cupped in green mountains.

Stilted Houses, Wave Dances, Back Baskets

A young Tujia woman in a Tujia bridal sedan chair.Zhangjiajie boasts a unique landscape and characteristic folklore. The area is inhabited by the Tujia, Bai and Miao ethnic minorities, who account for 77 percent of the local population. Their folk cultures bring still more enchantment to the picturesque scenery.

Tujia people are native to the area. They live in stilted houses that add a human element to the beautiful natural surroundings. The houses are made of timber, with wooden railings and grid windows, and gray tiled roofs. A fenced courtyard generally surrounds the house, to which a slabstone path leads. Today many of these traditional houses are installed with TV sets and telephones.

The Wave Dance is a Tujia ceremonial group dance to the accompaniment of drums, gongs and singing, where dancers wave their hands and advance in the same direction to a synchronized tempo. Its origins are ancient, and it became popular during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

Back baskets are an integral aspect of the daily lives of the Tujia people and a staple form of transport in the mountains. They come in different shapes and sizes for different purposes. Babies spend a large part of their infancy in such baskets, and women also use them to carry their laundry to the stream. In recent years back baskets produced by the Tujia people have been traded at the Chinese Export Commodities Fair in Guangzhou and are in popular demand with overseas traders.

Tourist Destination

The 48-m-tall, 12-storied wooden Chongtian Tower, a masterpiece of Tujia architecture, with its nine-layer eaves.The city of Zhangjiajie is in the hinterland of the Wuling Mountains. To its east is the prosperous Dongting Lake area, and to its west is the juncture area of Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan and Guizhou provinces. According to local annals, merchants from across the country came here as early as the Ming Dynasty. Apart from traders, many businesspeople from Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces also carried on their commercial and industrial undertakings there.

Today Zhangjiajie is growing into a modern tourist city, easily accessible by land, rail and air. The newly built airport is located at the foot of Tianmen Mountain. Both former president Jiang Zemin and former premier Zhu Rongji have visited the city and encouraged the local people to make good use of their tourism resources and build Zhangjiajie into a popular tourist destination. Liu Liwei, secretary of the municipal Party committee, is visibly thrilled when recalling how former premier Zhu Rongji spoke of Zhangjiajie as one of the two trump cards of Hunan Province. He vows, "We will work harder to increase the value of this trump card and establish Zhangjiajie as a world-famous name." Today the city has basically achieved its goal of building Zhangjiajie into an international tourist city characterized by rational layout, good facilities, a beautiful environment, and oriental charm.

Unlike many other mountainous regions in China, Zhangjiajie has never been exposed to the outside world, nor visited by emperors, sages, or men of letters. It consequently has no inscriptions or carved tablets. The absence of such historic touches has, however, preserved the wild beauty of the area, enhancing its value as a pure gift of nature.

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